Remembering John Ritter

By on October 2, 2003

Beloved actor and comedian John Ritter died at age 54 on the evening of Sept. 11. Ironically, it was supposed to be the start of one of the most wonderful weeks of his life.

The start of the day was certainly a sad day for America, but was a happy day for Ritter’s family. It was his beloved daughter Stella’s fifth birthday and Ritter had already arranged to leave the set of his hit ABC sitcom 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, early that day to attend his daughter’s party. The very next day the family was ready to celebrate another big milestone for the family, not only because it was his wife, actress Amy Yasbeck’s birthday, but because Ritter was looking forward to escorting his little girl to her very first day of school.

To finish off the week of celebrations was Ritter’s own upcoming birthday on Sept. 17, and he and Yasbeck’s wedding anniversary on Sept. 18. Ritter collapsed only hours away from such anticipated happiness. According to People magazine, the day before he died, he mentioned to someone on the set of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, that he was the happiest he had ever been, and “if I die tomorrow, I die a very happy man.”

People also reports that Ritter first believed he was coming down with the flu, or suffering from simple indigestion. He hadn’t been feeling quite right for about a week, and resorted to popping Rolaids and Zantac. He tried to ignore the chest discomfort he experienced, looking to live up to the expectations of making his show’s second season a success. On the afternoon of Sept. 11, he felt poorly enough to return to his trailer between rehearsals to lie down, complaining of nausea and fatigue. Ritter thought he was suffering from a little food poisoning that would go away on its own.

His condition worsened as the day went on. He was rehearsing for the fourth episode of the second season, and his good friend Henry Winkler was making a guest appearance. Later in the day John started to sweat profusely and became extremely nauseous.

A while later, his assistant checked in on the resting actor, discovering he was very weak and short of breath. They transported him immediately across the street to Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, only yards away, but it was too late. John Ritter died at 10 p.m. that night, with his wife at his side. Reports say Ritter died from a dissection of the aorta, a tear in the main artery that carries blood from the heart, and after he collapsed, there was nothing the emergency doctors could do for him at that point.

Dr. Howard Allen, a Beverly Hills cardiologist and clinical professor of medicine at UCLA, tells People, “When the aorta ruptures, it causes extreme loss of blood or the blood fills the air sac around the heart, restricting its function in most cases there is little or no warning.”

The cast and crew of 8 Simple Rules were so devastated by his death that the network provided grief counseling for them. Ritter was survived by his second wife Amy Yasbeck, their daughter Stella, and three children from a previous marriage.

Ritter was best known for his hilarious portrayal of Jack Tripper, a lovable, bumbling, skirt-chasing culinary arts student on Three’s Company. All those who knew him are shocked and saddened by the loss of this man with the big heart and ready smile. He was often heard repeating his mantra, “A true healthy heart is filled with love and compassion”.

As for the future of 8 Simple Rules, ABC has not yet decided exactly what will happen, but sources close to the set reveal that the network may be considering possible replacements such as Tony Danza and Henry Winkler for his part. No matter who replaces him in the role, no one can replace the man and the memory of the kind-hearted comedian that everyone loved. He will be remembered with laughter, and his smile will live on in all his accomplishments.


About Helen Harrington